SASKATOON — The Red Deer Rebels raced out to a 3-0 lead, then took their foot off the gas.
In the end, however, the Rebels pulled out a 4-2 Western Hockey League win over the Saskatoon Blades before 3,767 fans at Credit Union Centre to open their four-game East Division road trip on a positive note.
“Any time you can start off a trip with a win it’s huge,” said GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Conner Bleackley scored late in the first period and added a power-play marker at 3:22 of the second frame, and 16-year-old rookie forward Grayson Pawlenchuk — with his fourth of the season — gave the Rebels a three-goal cushion a mere 36 seconds after Bleackley’s third of the campaign.
But David Nemecek replied for the Blades on a late second-period man advantage and when Red Deer native Colin Valcourt connected 13 minutes into the third period the hosts were within a single goal.
“We got a little complacent in our game and got away from our details and allowed them (Blades) to get momentum,” said Sutter. “We also took a five-minute major in the second period (a checking-to-the-head infraction to defenceman Devan Fafard) that didn’t help and allowed them to stay in the game.
“But we managed to get through it. All in all, it was a big win and a good win. We had five 16-year-olds dressed tonight and outside of (back-up goaltender Taz) Burman they all played and played well.”
With 20-year-old winger Lukas Sutter out of action with an upper-body injury suffered in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Calgary and veteran forward Cory Millette not on the road trip for undisclosed reasons, the Rebels called up 16-year-old forward Meyer Nell from the midget AAA Notre Dame Argos, a move that may be permanent.
“We’ll go through the week and see how he does, but that (keeping Nell on the roster for the rest of the season) is the initial thought,” said Sutter.
Nell was joined up front by fellow 16-year-olds Pawlenchuk, Adam Musil, who picked up an assist, and converted defenceman Austin Shmoorkoff.
Dominik Volek potted a last-minute, empty-net goal for Red Deer, which improved to 4-1 and will take on the Raiders tonight in Prince Albert.
“All road trips get tougher as they go along,” said Sutter, whose squad goes up against the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday and closes out the jaunt with a Saturday date with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“Tomorrow night (tonight) we’re playing a team we beat 4-0 in the playoffs last spring. They’re going to be ready to play and we have to make sure we’re ready,” said Sutter. “We have 10 new faces in our lineup so they have to respond the right way.”
Patrik Bartosak turned aside 30 shots to earn his third win of the season. Blades netminder Alex Moodie made 31 saves.
l Lukas Sutter is listed as week-to-week with his upper-body injury.
“We’ll see how his rehab goes but he’ll be out for awhile,” said Brent Sutter.